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Chronicles of Oklahoma
Volume 7, No. 4
December, 1929

Page 468

No field of American literature seems to beckon to a certain class of aspiring writers with more impelling force than the American Indian, his life, his customs, his culture, his religious rites and ceremonies, his history and, lastly, leis "problem," which the white man has been vainly attempting to "solve," with wise propositions, big appropriations and entrenched bureaucracy for many, many years. Numerous valuable treatises have been written concerning the people of the native American race by persons who were thoroughly competent to do so, as the result of long association and thorough acquaintance with Indians and Indian work. Unfortunately, not all books concerning Indians are based upon such personal acquaintance and accurate knowledge. Superficial, second-hand information, worked over at long range from original sources, does not always result, in thoroughness or enlightening value from either scientific or historical viewpoints.

Such thoughts are suggested by a cursory examination of a recently issued volume entitled "the Story of the Red Man," by Flora Warren Seymour, A. B., LL. B., LL. M., Member of the Board of Indian Commissioners. Without discussing the strictly literary phases of the volume, its blitheness, (that shades almost into flippancy) and its studied rhetorical effect, it will suffice to discuss the historical accuracy and spirit of fairness manifested. Possibly this may be done effectively by quoting verbatim, (including its punctuation) the author’s narrative of part of the history of the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes, during the latter portion of 1864. This quotation is Subdivision 3, of Chapter XIV (pp. 377-81) the essential portions of which read as follows:

"These were lively days for the warriors of the plains. Where the Sioux left off raiding the Cheyenne and Arapaho braves began. Below them thousands of Kiowa and Comanche kept the trails well watched.1 Travel beyond the Kansas frontier was always dangerous and often impossible. The Territory of New Mexico and her newly formed sister

Page 469

territory, Colorado, found themselves often without means of communication with the East, without needed supplies, without protection.2

"Actual invasion by troops of the Confederacy had been turned back after a battle or two. But this portent of the hostile braves was no question of pitched battle and single sharp engagements. It was a daily menace to travel and communication. It threatened something like siege to the remote villages of mountain or desert whose dependence was all upon food and munitions brought by pack trains across the prairies.3

"Bent’s fort had disappeared these ten years past. Colonel William Bent, finding the United States Government unwilling to buy it at a satisfactory price, blew it up one fine day and abandoned the site.4 Somewhat farther down, the military had set up Fort Wise5 Here had been made a treaty with the Cheyenne and Arapaho Indians, nominally confining them to a three-sided reservation angling out toward the plains.6 With the coming of the Civil

Page 470

War Wise joined the Confederacy and the Fort which had borne his name was rechristened Fort Lyon.7

"Discovery of gold in the Rockies had brought a rush of miners in ’59, resulting in the creation of the Territory of Colorado in the following year.8 These were days of overland freighting and the pony express, with both of which institutions Indian fighting played frequent havoc.

"Opinions are sharply divided on the events which led up to the so-called 'Chivington massacre.'9 One may read unsparing condemnation of the soldiers who came down from Denver to their bloody work. On the other hand, there are still to be found in Colorado old residents who maintain stoutly that the Indians didn’t get half they deserved on that November morning in 1864.

"In the spring Governor Evans of the territory had issued a proclamation urging friendly Indians to go to the protection of the soldiery and the Indian agent at Fort Lyon, and there to refrain from, wandering and murdering upon the plains.10 During the summer season his procla-

Page 471

mation won no notice. Depredations, captures, and murders went on.

"There was a premeditated attack all along the stage line from the Missouri.11 Nearly every one of the relay stations suffered attack. Buildings were burned and stock driven away. Colorado Territory was cut off from communication with the states to the east.12

"In the mile-high table-land that fringes the Rockies, late September holds more than a hint of approaching winter. The lengthening frosty nights warned Black Kettle, leader of the Cheyenne, that it was time to gather into winter quarters at the agency, to receive annuities and presents, to get fresh store of ammunition in readiness for another summer.13 Accordingly, groups of his followers began to appear at Fort Lyon, professing friendliness and the desire to smoke the pipe of peace with the white man.14

"Already the military authorities had awakened to the need of action and a campaign was being prepared

Page 472

against the hostilities. The Indian agent bringing a party of red men up to Governor Evans at Denver, was told that the power to make peace had now passed from the Governor’s hands.15 On their part, the Indians admitted depredations in conjunction with Apache, Comanche, and Kiowa, and with thirteen different bands of Sioux who had crossed the Platte and made common cause with the other warriors of the plains. Black Kettle and White Antelope, Cheyenne chiefs, and the representatives of the Arapaho Left Hand, were now willing, they said, to take the white man by the hand. They found the white man not so willing. Governor Evans said: "The war is begun, and the power to make a treaty has passed from me to the great war chief.’

"It was November when Colonel Chivington the 'fighting parson,’ whose Colorado troops had turned back the Confederate invasion, was ready to charge upon the Indians. He made his way, not to the plains where in spite of the advanced season he might still have found some marauding parties, but to the camp on Sandy Creek where the Cheyenne and Arapaho were gathered.16

"The attack was unexpected; the Indians were badly outnumbered. The result was an indiscriminate slaughter of men, women, and children, despite, so some said, the raising by the Indian leader of the flag of the United States as a protection.17 There were scalpings and mutilations such as Indians themselves might have perpetrated. To the soldiers this seemed only a fair return for the summer

17The author fails to state why the Indians encamped on Sand Creek and at whose suggestion that location had been selected for the camp. She fails to tell that Major Wynkoop was relieved from the command of Fort Lyon and that he was ordered to report at his district headquarters, at Fort Riley, 400 miles distant, virtually under arrest, because he had received the surrender of the people of this village, or that his successor, Major Anthony, presumably acting under inspiration, if not instructions, from Denver, returned the arms and horses which had been surrendered by the Indians and directed them to move over to Sand Creek and go into camp, professedly because they would be nearer the buffalo herds, but, in fact and in design, because it would not look well to have such a scene of carnage enacted too close to a garrisoned military post. She admits that the result of this "so-called massacre" was "an indiscriminate slaughter of men, women and children." The statement relative to "the raising by the Indian leader of the flag of the United States as a protection," with the attendant inference that such an act was a mere expedient, performed on the spur of the moment, after the attack on the Indian village had begun, is utterly unwarranted. A reasonable amount of investigation on the part of any unbiased and fairminded investigator would have disclosed the fact that, when Major Wynkoop was forced to leave, he told Black Kettle to keep the Stars and Stripes floating over his lodge all of the time, in token of the fact that he had surrendered and was not at war, and that Black Kettle faithfully obeyed Major Wynkoop’s injunction.

Page 473

of horror. To the onlooker, especially at a distance, it was a fiendish attack upon confiding innocence.18 A Congressional investigation, the following year, brought out many statements, from which the only sure conclusion to be drawn was that the settlers and roving savages could not peaceably occupy the same territory.19

"Colonel William Bent, whom the Indians now called Grey-Beard,20 testified at this hearing. So did his oldest

Page 474

half-Cheyenne son, Robert, who had been interpreter to Chivington’s command. Bent’s two younger sons, George and Charles, were in the Sand Creek camp when it was attacked. They escaped to become leaders of fierce-marauding bands in the years of plains-fighting that followed21.

"Colonel Chivington thought that he had killed Black Kettle and won for himself a general’s star. He was mistaken in both assumptions. Black Kettle lived to fight the whites through other summer campaigns and died in another winter raid made by General Custer on the Washita, four years later."22

It is to be regretted that a most reputable publishing house should have permitted itself to be victimized and induced to give currency to such a slipshod literary production because its writer had capitalized a tenure in a quasi-official position. Regrettable as all this may be, however, it is even more to be deplored than the credulity of the reading public, which is not always in a position to be discriminating on such matters, must be imposed upon by such a compilation of misinformation. If the rest of the volume fell as far short in historical accuracy and fairness, a critical review of the whole book would scarcely be justified if one were to attempt to refute all misstatements and correct all errors. Incidentally, it may be remarked that it would seem that a member of the Board of Indian Commissioners should at least be fair and unbiased in her or his attitude toward the Indian people, instead of viewing them with prejudice, which, in this instance, seems to be so thinly veiled as to cause even a lay reader to wonder how such a selection came to be made.


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